The second meeting of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Nursery Schools and Nursery Classes heard from headteachers on 17 May that maintained nursery schools should be given the option to convert to academies. Despite the fact that 59% of maintained nursery schools are rated Outstanding by Ofsted and that disadvantaged children at these schools do as well as their peers, far from their success being celebrated, many of these schools are at risk of imminent closure. Although compulsory academisation is off the agenda for now, some local authorities still plan to academise all their primary, secondary and special schools leaving their maintained nursery schools in an anomalous position.
“The DfE has recognised that once a critical mass of schools have converted to academy status, the local authority will no longer be able to support its remaining schools and should be able to ask government to convert the rest. This same argument applies to maintained nursery schools – how will local authorities support them when they no longer have the infrastructure to support other schools? In some local authorities which are pressing ahead with full academisation in the next year or two, this is an urgent question.” said Dr Margy Whalley, Director of Pen Green.
The APPG also debated the best models for academy status for nursery schools. Although maintained nursery schools range in size, the majority will generally be too small to function effectively as stand-alone academies but they could be part of a Multi-Academy Trust (MAT). There are fears that if nursery schools are part of multi-phase MATs, their specialist early years knowledge will be diluted or overlooked.
“If nursery schools within MATs are given a strong overarching role in relation to the foundation phase in all the MAT’s schools that could be a powerful model for improvement in the early years. But there’s also much to be said for a groups of maintained nursery schools forming their own MATs,” suggested Beatrice Merrick, Chief Executive of Early Education. “Specialist nursery MATs would foster the specialist early years expertise which nursery schools currently embody, and provide a lead for school to school improvement in the foundation stage, and to support PVIs at a time when local authority early years teams are losing capacity for quality improvement work.”
Participants all agreed that academy status was not a panacea, and that maintained nursery schools needed sustainable levels of funding to be guaranteed.
The meeting called on the Government to:
- guarantee maintained nursery schools receive a viable funding rate via a Schools Block lump sum component (comparable to ensuring payment of sparsity funding to rural schools)
- revive and renew the Presumption Against Closure with a “double lock” requiring agreement from local authority and government before any closures
- give maintained nursery schools the freedom to convert to academy status either alone or as part of a MAT
- give maintained nursery schools dedicated professional advice and support through the process of becoming an academy